While the name “Versailles” often conjures up images of opulent grandeur, “La Venaria Reale” will almost certainly draw a blank with most people. It is, in fact, the huge summer residence and hunting lodge of Italy's Savoy sovereigns, and it was the model for Louis XIV's magnificent and more well-known — but smaller — residence on the outskirts of Paris.
Designed for Carlo Emmanuele II in the mid-17th century, La Venaria Reale included a small village housing members of the court and stables for 200 horses. The huge complex, declared part of humanity's cultural heritage by UNESCO, is currently part of the largest restoration project in Europe (with an outlay of almost $290 million), the first stage of which was recently inaugurated.
As well as the inaugural exhibition — “The Reggia di Venaria and the Savoys. History and Magnificence of a European Court” — visitors flock to see a unique project by UK director Peter Greenaway, who was commissioned to create a fascinating multimedia project, entitled Repopulating the Palaces. Open since the Fall and running for three years, this audiovisual installation occupies a number of central rooms, recreating aspects of daily life in the palace during its heyday.
Turin, Italy-based Volumina produced the project, directed by Greenaway for Piedmont Regional government. The firm's 70-strong team, led by Domenico DeGaetano, worked for over two years on the videos — featuring a total of 170 scenes shot at Lumiq studios with 300 extras and well-known Italian actors such as Ornella Muti, Remo Girone, and Ennio Fantastichini — and on the installation.
Gabriele Magagna of Acuson, the company that supplied, programmed, and installed the entire AV and lighting set-up, explains, “One key problem to overcome was installing a large amount of hardware with the lowest possible visual impact and in such as way as to ensure that, when the equipment was removed after the installation, no trace was to be left, such as holes, ducts, mounting brackets, etc.”
Acuson worked in close collaboration with the Cultural and Architectural Heritage Service to find a solution, which eventually took the form of C-shaped steel profiles mounted at a height of approximately 16.4' (5m), below the rooms' plaster cornices, and a triangular cable duct the same color as the wall. These will remain in place after the project and be used to hang paintings and tapestries exhibited in the rooms in the future.
The installation is divided into five areas: Entry, Kitchen (two zones), Hunt, Apartments (five zones), and Court (two zones). The 26 video projectors installed in the Kitchen are mounted on a self-supporting metal structure with adjustable feet and telescopic wall braces, to avoid the need for screws.
Magagna's brief was to provide 360° projection in all rooms — in one, the sky is also recreated — from floor level up to maximum possible height, creating a completely immersive environment. The videos were all recorded in full HD 1080i, so playback and projection setups had to maintain this quality. From the point of view of audio, the actors' speech had to be highly intelligible and directional, in spite of the acoustic problems to overcome.
Lighting fixtures and controllers had to ensure variable intensity and color, and the automation system had to synchronize control of video, audio, and lighting with repetitive sequences in adjacent rooms. “To meet the director's requirements, we suggested the use of professional DLP video projectors with native 16:9 format and edge-blending possibilities, facilitating post-production and installation in rooms with different dimensions,” Magagna says. “As far as lighting was concerned, we opted for LED technology, able to generate millions of colors with compact fixtures.”
Audio is entrusted to Bose throughout, with 46 Panaray MA12 modular line array loudspeakers to ensure high speech intelligibility, even in these acoustically demanding spaces. These are powered by nine Entero 840 eight-channel power amps and processed by six ControlSpace ESP88 engineered sound processors.
US lighting designer AJ Weissbard met Volumina through Greenaway, with whom he has worked on several projects in Italy and France since the late '90s. “Some constraints were involved, as far as issues like hanging possibilities, because permits to set up equipment in these spaces, which are in a publicly preserved building, had to be carefully researched, and that happened before I was involved with the project,” says Weissbard. “The budget had also been set, but I eventually managed to switch around, getting more of some things and less of others, so in the end, it worked out. The Apartments got a lot more extra attention than they originally had. We created effects with a lot of illumination that achieved a sense of the passage of the time of day in the various rooms. We also lit up the architecture in a much different way.”
Weissbard notes that, in the Apartments, “there is a ‘dialog’ between the videos of the personalities and their original portraits, but the lighting originally planned was only for these portraits and not for the original space, so that was changed. We found good solutions for everything, and I actually managed to add some fixtures to the plot.” Weissbard references his use of Anolis ArcLine Optic 24 RGB LED striplights and Coemar white PinLites for the frescoes.
Other gear includes Spotlight Mini Profiles and Mini Profile Zooms, Coemar ParLite LEDs, and RGB PinLites for the Apartments, as well as SGM Palco 3 units. “This was the first time I'd used the Palco fixtures,” Weissbard adds. “They were on the original plan, and I had more brought in, as I think they're actually quite good. They're much brighter than I thought they would be; color mixing is not bad at all, and for certain jobs, they worked really well.”
One of the biggest factors to be addressed was durability, as the project is running for three years, so the less maintenance, the better. “This was one of the reasons for wide use of LED-based lighting, plus much lower power requirements and heat factor,” notes Weissbard. “Another interesting aspect of the project was how we built the show for programming, done by Marco Castellazzi. We use an MA Lighting grandMA light console to program each of the five zones, saving each zone in the desk as an independent sequence, and then those were eventually fed into DMX recorders.” Overall control of each area's multimedia setup is via an AMX NetLinx NI-3100 Integrated Controller and a 4“ AMX Modero Touch Panel.
This installation was a particularly satisfying challenge for Magagna, as he concludes, “At the Reggia, we were able to put our lengthy expertise in a wide variety of sectors to good use, consigning a turnkey package with integrated audio, video, lighting, and motorized systems.”
Mike Clark is an Italy-based UK journalist specializing in entertainment technology and can be contacted at email@example.com.